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Career Path Template: Watching After Your Own Plan

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Working at Target after I retire is not my idea of success. – JMac

Lots of graduates are looking for what to do next. A lot of us parents are trying to figure out how to help them. The retire at Target path is not what I am hoping to create. So here’s a short course in why you need to go to college and an outline of some of the skills you will develop there.

College or straight to work after high school? While it’s true you likely won’t find work exactly in your degree program once you graduate, the difference between learning in high school and college is quite important. I got my degree in English. I work in marketing. And I actually failed my only Advertising course, by trying to skip the 200+ class sessions and doing the assignments. They had that idea figured out. A big F. And that’s a bit harder to recover from these days. So IF you do go, at least go to class 90% of the time.

It might be a good motivation to go out in the world and work for a bit BEFORE attending college. My experience as a parking garage manager and art gallery wonk was good enough to show me I needed to go ahead and get my degree, in something.

I believe that college teaches us several lessons we weren’t ready to learn in high school.

A passion for learning. It doesn’t matter what class it is, but if you go to college you are likely to CLICK with some class. And your eyes will be opened to a whole new perspective. For me, it was Zoology 101. It was during that semester that the Discovery shuttle blew up on launch. Something connective happened at that moment. I was already a bit “environmental” but after understanding the web of life that interleaves all of us, and the hugely disappointing tragedy of science, I was humbled a bit.

How to collaborate. We should teach collaboration as a core skill in high school. Maybe we should do more with collaborative learning from elementary school on up.

Collaboration skills are the most important thing you need to learn to make your way in the world of work.

You need to learn how to lead a project when asked. But almost more important, you need to learn to be a member of a team and work with a lot of other personalities, some of whom might not be helpful in getting your project completed. This is the way the world works. Some people will provide energy, ideas, and enthusiasm. Some people will care less about your project and more about their plans for Friday night. Some people may even try to work against your project, even if they are on your team because they don’t want you to be too successful. And some people are inept. Each of these players has to be factored in. And you have to learn to turn in a successful project in spite of the obstacles. You will learn your work style. How do you perform as a member of a team? What are your weaknesses? How do you lead? All critical path requirements for getting ahead in your career. And you simply don’t learn this stuff in high school.

How to manage your own time. For once you are no longer under your parents’ watchful eye. So the responsibility falls on you to party or perform. Perhaps you can do some of both, but the balancing act is one that you will work towards for the rest of your life. YOU can set your bedtime, but when Monday morning rolls around, YOU have to get your ass out of bed and into the job. Even if you are less than enthusiastic about what you are working on or who you are working for.

Meeting, Aligning With, and Influencing People. In high school, a lot of energy and motivation can be generated through popularity, or lack thereof, perhaps. In college, you will no longer be a superstar. You MIGHT join a fraternity/sorority to try and recreate some of that “inclusion” but in the world of work, there are no “cliques.” There are teams. And you won’t always be on the winning team. So you need to meet people. You need to provide value as a team member whenever you are invited to be part of a team. (If you don’t think you can provide value, you can either learn how to do it anyway, or you can decline the offer, being uncommitted is the worst thing you can do for the team.) As you are successful as a team member for people in power, you may get invited to work on more powerful teams. You may even be given a leadership position.

Learning to Lead a Team. IMPORTANT: Make sure you have the support of your executive sponsors before accepting a leadership role. As you succeed with projects you will find opportunities to climb a bit higher up the chain of command. But it’s no longer about how handsome or pretty you are, and it’s not about what kind of car you drive.

Your value to the company, to a leader, and to a team, is strictly limited to your ability to succeed on a team, in any role you are given.

Always Be Learning. If you spend most of your time watching TV or partying on the weekends, you will likely find yourself in the same position year after year. Time is the primary commodity we have control over. Work is going to consume a good bit of your time, right off the bat. And sleep is going to take another large chunk. So you are quickly going to be left with nights and weekends. It is what you do during those times that you have the most influence over. And if you spend them like you did in high school, you might not make the progress you could. There are several things you can do that will advance your career as much as any of the other items listed above.

Read. Plug the information into your brain. Find something that you are passionate about and then read about it. Absorb all that you can about it.

Write. If you are not blogging, you might consider it. Where else are you going to make your position known? Where else are you going to refine your convictions? NOTE: Your blog may be more important than your resume in finding your next job. Especially if your world of work is in online marketing of any kind. (yes I can show you directly how this blog has landed my last two jobs)

Network. Find a group you are interested in and go to their meetings. While I am not a developer, I have met some amazing people at local Ruby on Rails meetings. And I am fascinated by the hybrid language concept.

Start a business. You can start a t-shirt business online with zero dollars using Cafe Press. You can learn more about marketing, merchandising, social media, advertising, and commerce by simply doing it. You may not make any money on your t-shirt business, but the first rule of Technology Ventures still applies, “Everyone needs a good t-shirt.” Get good at t-shirts. Get good at online. Get good at expressing your ideas and communicating that “message” to others. (It will be a fantastic resume discussion point.)

That’s it. Short and sweet. And here is the Career Path Template I adapted from the Boxes and Arrows blog.

career path template

John McElhenney —  LinkedIn

Please check out a few of my books on AMAZON

Especially this one, about living a creative life of intention and joy. 


this creative life - john oakley mcelhenney


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